I recently had the excellent fortune to sit down with one of my favorite young actors: Michael Cera, who you may know from his portrayal of the nervous, dorky George Michael Bluth on "Arrested Development."
Jonah Hill and Chris Mintz-Plasse were there, too, all to promote their upcoming summer comedy Superbad. I've seen the movie — which was co-written by Seth Rogen — and it is as hilarious as it is raunchy. These young gentlemen play off each other as though they've known each other for years, though they only really met on the set of Superbad.
During the time I had with the trio and a couple other journalists, we got an earful on "the inner Judd Apatow circle," how they looked to Dazed and Confused for inspiration, and whether Superbad has a message about teen drinking. Oh, and they give some exclusive advice to high school seniors.
Q. You’re playing characters named Seth and Evan written by Seth [Rogen] and Evan [Goldberg]. Did you often go to those guys, or was it all in the script?
Michael: They were on set all the time.... We would go to them, but not for character notes, not like, “How would you play it?” But we would go to them for like, “How should I play this?” because they were good for… you know, they were very, they had very good ideas, they were very attached to the script and knew it very well.
Jonah: But we weren’t doing impressions of them, or playing them in any way.
Michael: I was actually doing an impression of Seth, which was strange.
Jonah: This isn’t like an autobiographical movie for them, like we weren’t playing them. They just kept the names the same, and they wrote it.
Chris: They were probably too lazy to think of new names.
More super great stuff from the boys of Superbad if you read more
Q. How far back does the script go?
Jonah: They started writing it when they were thirteen, so over ten years ago. Which I think is why it’s kind of awesome because like, it felt like, very realistic because they started writing it when they were that age, or in high school.
Michael: Yeah, not a lot has changed.
Q. How much did you deviate from the script? How much improv was there on set?
Jonah: Quite a bit.
Michael: It’s like wordings, mostly. I mean the whole story was very meticulously written and the characters the way they spoke, their voices, and their dynamics. It’s just wordings or different funny things that we thought might be funny so that it doesn’t get too stale. Or so you could find some new things that might be funnier, or you know, stuff like that... Like it feels like, to me, I didn’t work on Knocked Up, but it feels like, watching it like there’s basically a very loose outline and then you guys can say whatever you want within that? This was more scripted than that.
Jonah: Well, only because… I mean, I felt like we improvised a ton on Superbad. But we didn’t change… the thing was we had to get certain story points out. Like, in Knocked Up a lot of times, it was like, there would be a scene with us roommates or whatever, and it would be like we kinda wouldn’t know what the scene was really about. It would be a written version and we’d do the written version, and then it could kinda go wherever we wanted.
Michael: I think improvising on Superbad kinda served a different purpose.
Jonah: It really had to push the story forward.
Q. Jonah, you spend most of the movie in a fairly uh, agitated state. Like is it all James Lipton-y, what acting tricks did you do? Or did you just drink a lot of Red Bull?
Jonah: No, you know it was hard. I was nervous about it because it’s hard… you know, it’s hard to play a character that’s kind of… starts off a little angry and then is all different levels of intensity. Like, what Michael’s doing is a totally different pace of like, you know, pacing of the scene. It’s hard for me, and it’s also hard to be funny while you’re like, super angry or super freaked out about something.
Michael: I would say, as a testament to Jonah’s performance, it’s hard to find someone likable that’s really anxious and nervous all the time, but you really feel for his character, I think.
Jonah: Well, it was just difficult. I was really scared that people weren’t going to think it was funny or I was like nervous that I kinda had to be so high energy and high nerves the whole time that like… and having different levels of it you know? And then [director] Greg Mottola and I, it was me and Mottola talking every take about how to… what level I had to be at, you know? That was the big monitor for me, was like what level of anxiety and frustration and anger I was at.
Q. I saw it with a young audience and there was a lot of talk coming out of “instant classic.”
Jonah: Did you see it at my parents’ house? (laughs)
Q. So when you’re making a film like this and you’re kind of putting things together, does it feel like a Dazed and Confused? Does it feel like Weird Science?
Jonah: I’d say lmy biggest inspiration was Dazed and Confused for this movie.
Michael: Yeah. It takes place over one night…
Q. But it’s still a very non-traditional teen film…
Michael: It’s kinda like more traditional to how I remembered high school, if anything, and not how it’s portrayed in movies. So I guess that makes it a non-traditional film but more of a traditional high school –
Q. But if Columbia said to you "Okay, we’re going to go ahead with Superbad 2: The Search for Seth’s Car," would the idea of returning to these characters be fun, or would it seem like a betrayal?
Chris: I think it would be fun.
Jonah: I think if there’s interest in doing it. First of all, the movie hasn’t come out yet, it could bomb and then they won’t want a sequel. To me, the story, I love where the story ends, you know what I’m saying?
Michael: Me, too.
Jonah: I don’t know if I want to see what happens…
Michael: I think, like, my favorite movie ever, I don’t think I’d like a sequel of. If I heard they were making one, like a sequel to Rushmore, I’d be like, “Why are they doing that?”
Q. And Rushmore’s your favorite movie ever?
Michael: I think it’s perfect, yeah. Rushmore is the perfect film.
Q. What do you think of this movie as a kind of social commentary on teenage activities, like binge drinking, teen sex...?
Michael: You know, the first screening I went to there was a guy in his 20s and his mom, remember that? ... She came up to us and said, “I think this sent a really great message about not drinking.” And you know, I think parents who see this, you know, went to high school and know that people like this exist.
Jonah: I think it’s more about, it’s not saying do this or don’t do this, it’s more saying like this is what high school is like and it’s a funny story about –
Michael: Just don’t let your kids go out! If you’re afraid of... Just don’t let your kids go out.
Jonah: I don’t think there’s a message being relayed, I think it’s like this is what high school is like, here is an interesting story.
Michael: Yeah, parents do seem to enjoy this movie though. It tested pretty high...before the movie came out. We’ll see what happens after… (laughs) The outcry.
Chris: My mom loves it. My dad loves it, too.
Q. My question for Chris and Michael would be, like, you know Greg [Mottola] has shot a bunch of episodes of “Undeclared,” you had the chance to work with Seth before on two different films, there’s the whole Apatow umbrella over the whole thing. Did you two feel like you were coming towards a not an insular group but a well-knit group?
Chris: Oh yeah. I thought I was very lucky because when I auditioned for the movie I didn’t know what movie it was. I didn’t know Apatow was producing it, I didn’t know these people were part of it. I just, like, my friends told me about it like, okay this should be fun, and then I realized that I was “in” with probably the best group of people in Hollywood right now.
Michael: Once we got to know each other, it all became comfortable and we started hanging out as friends… Also, I had worked with Greg before.
Q. On “Arrested Development”?
Michael: Um, yeah, but that was a few years prior. But yeah, there is kinda that feeling especially it’s very intimidating knowing you have to kind of be on your toes, and, you know, improvise. And that’s kind of daunting at first, but what they concern themselves with, those guys, is making you feel comfortable, and you feel like one of them and that really helps in the end.
Jonah: Yeah, I would say that group, even with 40-Year-Old Virgin, like that first filming day, the first day that I was there… from that day I felt like, completely included in everything.
Michael: Yeah, it’s really collaborative, no matter how small the part... And they also give people chances to like, shine. There’s a guy in Superbad, Joe Munez, who plays the guy at the store...he had such a small part but he was so funny they brought him back — he was in the party scene — just ‘cause he was really funny and they liked to give him the chance.
Q. If you guys had tips for class of 2007-2008 seniors from your own experiences in high school, what would it be?
Jonah: Life gets better after next year. (laughs)
Michael: Get a job!
Jonah: I don’t know… Have fun.
Michael: Grow up.
Jonah: Enjoy this time, because adulthood is right around the corner. Maturity.
Michael: If you want to be treated like adults then start acting like them. (laughs)